Taxing Unoccupied and Unimproved Lands
St. Paul Pioneer Press
reprinted in The American Cooperator, circa 1904
The recent migration of thousands of American farmers to the cold and comparatively uninviting regions of western Canada has not been thru any lack of opportunity, in the more attractive regions of Minnesota and neighboring states, created by natural causes. Whatever lack of opportunity or ''room" exists, anywhere south of the boundary line, is the result of conditions wholly artificial in their origin. Chief among these is the tying up of large bodies of the best lands in the hands of speculators who are holding them for a rise. Take a trip on almost any railroad leading out of St. Paul and all along its line it will be found that the unimproved land exceeds in acreage the amount reduced to cultivation. In great numbers of instances there has been no thought of improving it by its present owners. They have bought it on speculation, and when they sell, it is an even chance that the transfer will be to some other speculator. Drive the speculator out of the field and the vacant stretches between villages will soon be occupied by farms. At present, even in the wonderfully fertile and productive region of the Red River of the North, a vast acreage is unoccupied — held on speculation.
If the Western farmers and legislators had formed a truer appreciation of the fundamental teachings of Henry George in that remarkable book, "Progress and Poverty," they would long ago have found a remedy for conditions which prevent the settlement of lands in their own neighborhoods, condemn the larger part of the fertile area in hundreds of counties to unproductive idleness, curtail the revenues of the stale, and double the burdens of the farmers who are really building up the country. That remedy is the taxation of unproductive at the same rate as productive land; the release from taxation of the farmer's house and barn and crops and cattle, and the laying of the entire tax on the land — including in the term "land" all franchises and monopolistic uses of natural opportunities, like water power, etc. If the land speculator had to pay the same tax, on every uncultivated acre, that the farmer pays on the cultivated — the amount being increased by the abolition of the personal property tax — he would soon be compelled to "sell out " at such figures as would remove all temptation for the homeseeker to travel to Canada or elsewhere in search of cheap land. That the clear, shining virtue of Mr George's proposition should have been obscured by its forced and unnecessary connection with the questions of individual land owning and "free trade" is one of the misfortunes of the century. Divested of this connection, it affords the most direct and equitable solution yet suggested for the multiform problems involved in the right adjustment of taxation.